Community works to save Jenkins Bridge for posterity
When Denise Prisk looks at Jenkins Bridge, she sees a wonderful opportunity to link the past to the present. Coming from a long line of Jenkins residents, Denise remembers when the bridge was an integral part of daily life for the small town.
“This bridge is more than something that crosses a body of water,” says Denise. “It’s where many of us learned to swim, caught our first fish and picnicked with our families. It’s a vital part of local history.”
Completed in 1910, the bridge is one of the few one-lane, wood-floor, truss-style bridges remaining in Missouri. Located over the clear water of Flat Creek on Farm Road 1215 between highways 39 and 248, the bridge sees only foot traffic these days, especially now that the town of Jenkins is practically a memory. The town — once home to two banks, blacksmith shop, mercantile, cannery, mill and more — is now only a bedroom community to less than 1,000 residents.
In 2018, a Missouri Department of Transportation bridge inspection deemed the water crossing unsafe for automobiles and too expensive for needed structural repairs. The route was officially closed to traffic that year and Barry County leaders agreed the bridge wasn’t feasible to repair. The only other options would be to sell it or demolish the local landmark.
That’s when the clock began ticking toward the possible demolition of Jenkins Bridge.
Passionate about their historic icon, locals weren’t ready to give up their bridge so easily. A meeting was called by the residents of Jenkins and attended by everyone who knew and loved the landmark. More than 100 people showed up to offer support and hear what the future plans might be for the beloved bridge. After the meeting, attendees teamed up to form a nonprofit organization called the Jenkins Bridge Restoration Foundation Corp.
“We don’t want the bridge removed from our community,” says Denise, who serves as secretary/treasurer for the foundation. “We understand time is not on our side.”
The goal of the group is to take ownership of the bridge and raise the funds needed to restore it for pedestrian use only. The county is willing to sell the bridge to the group for $1 with the stipulation they be able to buy the needed insurance and pay to have the bridge repaired for pedestrians.
Barry County officials said they would hold off with demolition, if anyone came forward with a plan. The residents moved quickly into place, forming the nonprofit organization so tax-deductible donations could be made. The group paid Anderson Engineering of Monett for an estimate to turn the bridge into a safe pedestrian walkway.
“Depending on the plan we moved forward with, the bid was between $219,000 to $348,000,” says Denise. “To begin work, they said they’d accept an initial payment of $40,000, with construction taking place in 2023.”
That was in 2019. The group held fundraisers of all types: duck races, small concerts and dinners. Right now they’re sitting at $25,000 and must raise the remaining $15,000 by early next year so county officials know the group is serious about taking on the project.
With COVID concerns on everyone’s mind during 2020, fundraising efforts of the group fell to the wayside during a year they hope the county commissioners graciously overlook so they continue to have time to finish raising the down payment.
Foundation member Tracie Snodgrass pleads the case of saving the bridge from an educational standpoint.
“This bridge can be a teaching tool for our children,” says Tracie, looking out over the quiet river bend. “Conservation and nature are things kids need to continue learning about. People have come here for years to swim, fish and kayak. Kids aren’t going to experience that if they’re only on their phones.”
According to MoDOT’s website, Missouri has approximately 25,000 bridges on state, county and city roads. Several hundred are potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. At 111 years old, Jenkins Bridge fits the criteria. But right now, the foundation needs people who are passionate about the bridge to help before all the sand runs out of the hourglass.
As the sun sets on an unseasonably warm fall day, committee members stand on Jenkins Bridge, surveying Flat Creek. The water is so clear you can see the fish below. You can hear the water trickling over the creek rock as it flows around the bend upstream.
The rumble of a delivery truck is heard pulling up to the gravel bar. Soon the driver jumps from the vehicle with a fishing pole, looks over and smiles at the group. “It’s a peaceful place for a break,” says the fisherman. Within minutes he’s caught a couple of fish and released them back into their pristine home with hopes of catching them here again one day.
For more information about Jenkins Bridge, contact Denise Prisk at 417-342-3440 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations may be mailed or deposited in the Jenkins Bridge Restoration Foundation Corp. account at the First Independent Bank, 1100 S. Elliott Ave., Aurora, MO 65605. Follow Save The Jenkins Bridge on Facebook for updates.